Friends have asked me why I don’t want to be famous. Leila (all names are pseudonyms here) thought it would be awesome if I could be a bestselling writer like J.K. Rowling. Leila didn’t understand that stardom wasn’t what I was aiming for.
Another friend, Fanny, believed that everyone wanted to be famous, so she was perplexed by my repulsion to fame. Another friend, Cynthia, said that she wanted to start a new literary movement, or to invent something marvelous, and become known throughout the ages.
Well, back when I was in junior high, I did long to become a famous writer, scientist, thinker, or artist. But in high school, I grew close to my now-best friend: she made me realize what I truly desired in life, so I didn’t want to pursue fame anymore. You could even say that I’m fame-phobic now.
Fame can be toxic to your relationships
In fact, I think that becoming famous can destroy relationships. We might see ourselves as superior to others, which would poison our relationships with those we care about, and we would cherish them less and less.
When I explained my reasoning to a friend, Pearl, she replied that if she was famous, her relationships with friends and family would stay the same, so there was no need to worry. She vowed that she would use her influence for good, to help others. I was impressed by Pearl’s confidence, but I didn’t know if I had that much faith in myself.
Another terrible thing about fame, is that it creates a social ranking system, from the “most to least famous.” I hate social rankings, and such hierarchies would make me uncomfortable if they involved people I knew.
Different ways to classify fame
Besides, there are different degrees of fame, not just an all-or-nothing “famous or obscure.” Someone could be well-known in their field, but not to others outside of their field—or outside of their country. Someone else could be prestigious in very specific fields. Dr X. may not be well known in the general field of psychology, but they are famous in the field of depression and anxiety.
Alternatively, a person could be famous in a particular friendship or social circle. Someone else could be the “most outstanding and talked about” family member among their relatives.
Fame as a measure of skill and work quality
In fact, so many people equate fame with success. But I prefer to measure “success” by your actual ability—your skill level, quality of work produced, originality of work, and the like.
Then how about an exceptional artist who is not famous? Fanny believes that if your skills and work are amazing, fame will find you. I honestly doubt that. There are writers I know who are undoubtedly distinguished in their skills, yet are not famous.
On the flip side of the coin, there are some writers whose skills are—less remarkable, but they still manage to be bestselling authors.
Aside from sheer skill, there are other factors in becoming a well-known author, such as their marketing strategies, the time and effort (and money) put into book promotion, how much the work appeals to the general audience, pricing trends, luck and timing, etc.
Outstanding in other ways?
And what about people who are outstanding in their personality traits? Those who are exceptionally compassionate, generous, sweet, and kind? These aren’t qualities you should take for granted, since not everybody has them.
Some other admirable traits I can think of are: being conscientious, patient, perseverant, optimistic despite all setbacks, and having the psychological fortitude to push on no matter how tough or unfair things get. These are definitely laudable, even enviable, traits.
Yet, these personal qualities don’t lead to fame by themselves, unless the person makes something tangible out of them, such as founding a charity, becoming a renowned motivational speaker, or making inspiring works of art to benefit other people.
With all that said, I still appreciate some famous folks for the contributions they made, such as inventing useful technologies, leading social movements, coming up with insightful ideas, devising helpful new strategies of doing things, finding life tips and tricks, forming deep philosophies, making beautiful works of art, or even creating beloved fandoms (e.g. Satoshi Tajiri for Pokemon!)
What I dislike about fame is the potential arrogance, the forming of a social hierarchy, the abuse of power and influence, the loss of relationships, or the neglect of friends and family.
A thought experiment
Now imagine this: What if we live in a world where nobody is famous? What would we lose? What would we gain? We would erase that social hierarchy, for one, though we would still suffer from other social ranking systems, such as those from racism, sexism, homophobia, biphobia, ace- and arophobia, transphobia, classism, ableism, ageism, popularity, and other prejudices.
But if nobody is famous, then we can at least get rid of the glamor and egotism that could come with fame.
The good sides of fame
Yet, to be my own devil’s advocate, what if someone wants to lift their social standing by becoming famous, because they are in a minority group that is looked down upon, and they want to rise above that position of low power? For instance, they could be in the working class and get nothing but scorn from their richer relatives.
On the other hand, fame could be a convenient tool for everyone. If we’re looking for resources, we could check out the most famous people in the field, because we want a guarantee for high-quality work and trustworthy information.
Thus, fame can be a sign of legitimacy, at least in the eyes of the public. But can’t you be a legitimate authority without being famous?
Another argument for fame, is that famous people can be our role models and sources of inspiration. Even I look up to Charles Dickens as a role model of a great writer. And not everyone is prideful or demeaning to their close others after being famous.
Nevertheless, the idea of fame still makes me uncomfortable, so I would rather be someone who is spectacular in some skill, ability, creative work, or personal qualities.
I could become an extraordinary writer with a fabulous personality, but who is not famous at all.
In other words, I could be a great unknown.